Thursday, 5 May 2016

Edinburgh reflections: daffodiles, black bins, sightseeing, tv, plane food etc

It is almost a month since we arrived home from our trip to Edinburgh and Paris.  This is the last post on our travels.  I am finishing with some reflections about Edinburgh, a city I know well and where we spent a few weeks.  It continues to delight me and occasionally frustrate me.  Mostly delightful!  Just look at all the beautiful buildings.

My husband E grew up in Edinburgh so it is truly home to him.  I lived there a few years with him and yet it still delights and intrigues me.  I love rising my bike in the flat streets of Melbourne but I always admire those who rise bikes in hilly Edinburgh, not to mention the discomfort of riding on cobblestones. 

We usually go to Edinburgh in Autumn/Winter so it was interesting to be there in the start of Spring.  (The trip was not planned but organised in a rush after my father in law died suddenly.)  It was lovely to have the longer days for getting about, slightly warmer weather (ie still very chilly) and see the gorgeous daffodils everywhere.  I missed the Christmas lights that I love so much but it hard to go close to Christmas when life is so busy at home.

We notice the differences when we return to Edinburgh every few years.

Melbourne has more tattoos, personalised number plates on cars, street art, and soy milk is widely available in cafes.  It bemused me that most times E asked for a coffee with soy milk, he was told it wasn't available but they had semi skimmed milk.  And we were amused at their one tram line because Melbourne has a huge networks of trams.

Edinburgh has double decker buses, deep fried mars bars, gorgeous views of the castle, sturdy baby swings, and so many more electronic cigarettes.  The parks had lots of different sort of play equipment.  I really liked the roundabout at the park in the Meadows that had little pedals for the kids to use.  As mentioned Zomato cafes listings has not taken off like in Melbourne.

A week before we travelled to Paris, there were terrorist bombings in Brussells.  It made me feel more nervous about travel.  I had to regain perspective by reminding myself that I was more likely to be in a road accident than a terrorist attack.  On the news they reported that Edinburgh Airport was stepping up security.  Even so, Edinburgh Airport is very relaxed compared to Tullarmarine in Melbourne.  When we left Edinburgh we showed our passport to check in and to board the plane but there were no queues and rigourous screening like in Melbourne.

I have complained a few times about our Newington holiday accommodation.  The fridge was too hot, the flat too cold, the central heating settings too mysterious, the kitchen too uncared for, the downstairs smelt too damp.  I could go on and on.  Fortunately we loved our first and last accommodation places in Edinburgh.  However I am sharing this picture outside our place in Newington to show you the black bins.

When I worked in Edinburgh in the council, many considerations were being given to replacing black garbage bags with wheelie bins.  Edinburgh yards are too small or non-existant.  Footpaths are narrow.  These large wheelie bins on the corners were unsatisfactory and an eyesore.  Oh well at least they have the tram line working now, even if the locals are unimpressed.

We were impressed at all the kid's activities at so many tourist attractions.  Perhaps one of the most impressive was the Museum of Edinburgh.  Not only was there the above drawing corner midway through, but later on a large room offered brass rubbings, colouring in and building cardboard houses, stained glass windows, dressing up costumes etc.

Sylvia also had a great time doing lego at the National Museum, having her kids headset tour at Holyrood Palace and the wall of literary doors at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

I just love wandering about the centre of Edinburgh and admiring the Medieval buildings.  St Giles Cathedral, above is an imposing building that is a beautiful place to take time out from the hustle and bustle of the street.  I love it before I volunteered there many years ago as a guide.

Being in Edinburgh in Spring meant a few buildings were open that are usually closed when we visit. I went to Gladstone's Land on the first days it opened after the winter break.  It is really interesting to see how a building in the Old Town used to look in Medieval times and Victorian times.

This sign made me laugh.  We were also amused by some British television.  Unfortunately it has decreased in quality since our last visit.  Like in Melbourne lots of great drama has been replaced by cringe-worthy reality tv.  Here are a few interesting shows we saw:
  • We had a good laugh at You're Back in the Room where contestants were hypnotised before being set tasks.  (Think contestants believing they are Henry VII or the Wicked Witch of the West or in love with the presenter.)  It was so silly we had to laugh.  Apparently an Aussie version is now on Melbourne tv but I think once was enough.  
  • I enjoyed seeing hospital drama Casualty again.  ("Buckets of blood", my father in law used to say.)  
  • I started to watch a thoughtful drama called The A Word about autism.  Sadly I only got to see the first episode and then we left.  Perhaps it will be shown in Australia though we don't seem to do a good job at keeping up with many shows right now.
  • My favourite British show was The Kennedys which I watched was on the plane.  It was a retro reminiscence of a young girl growing up in 1970s England.  I still laugh when I say in my terrible British accent, "It's pasta.  Not in a tin!  That's madness!" from the episode where the mother decided to make lasagne for a dinner party.

And I cannot finish my reflections on the trip without a quick last word on the airplane food.  It isn't much better than the plane food on my last trip.  Yet again I found that I ordered lacto ovo vegetarian and was given really poor vegan meals or took my chance on if there was a nicer vegetarian meal available after everyone else was served.  The problem is that if I just get vegetarian meals with everyone else I am only given a meat meal if they run out of vegetarian meals.  The air stewards on Qatar airlines were actually quite helpful on our last leg and when they came by would give me a vegetarian meal if there was one left.

The saving grace is that airport food has improved.  Above is a quinoa, feta and vegie bowl I had at Edinburgh Airport on the way to Paris.  It was very welcome as I ended up buying bread rolls at the airport that we had for dinner upon arriving at our apartment when we were too tired to go out.  You can also see the hummus and salad plate above that which we had in Doha Airport (I think it was called Qataf Cafe).  Strangely enough it was cheaper than the chocolate croissant which E had.  The hummus and salad was fantastic when I had been eating fairly ordinary food on the plane and kept me going.

If you want to read more about the holiday, I have added links to our travel posts towards the bottom of the Reviews and Reflections index.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Edinburgh accommodation: Kildonan Lodge Hotel

As I have mentioned, our second holiday apartment in Edinburgh was less than satisfactory so for our last couple of days after returning from Paris, we booked into the Kildonan Lodge Hotel near to Cameron Toll Shopping Centre in Liberton.  It was an old style bed and breakfast accommodation that E and I used to stay in before Sylvia was born.  We enjoyed staying there.  In fact Sylvia rated it her favourite place we stayed.

We arrived back in Scotland on a wet day and it continued to rain for much of the next two days before we flew home to Australia.  We were greeted with a warm welcome.  The owner and her staff were lovely and very helpful.

We were shown to the cottage out the back.  In some ways it was good to be away from the main hotel to have some space but in other ways it was a bit annoying to have to walk through the rain into the breakfast room.

Our room had a double bed and a single bed for Sylvia through a small archway.  The online photo gallery had shown some quite fancy rooms but I guess they didn't have the extra bed which was appreciated.  It was a nice basic room with a tv.  However it didn't have much room around the bed which made it harder to spread out our large suitcases to pack for the journey home.

Sylvia and E were excited to have shortbread biscuits but we didn't touch the complementary sherry.

Once we had arrived we went into the lounge where there was a television.  Sylvia was so delighted to watch the BBC children's channel again after only having French tv for a week.  It was a nice room but with only two days we didn't have time to spend there.

Likewise we really liked the conservatory in the cottage but didn't have the time - nor the weather - to enjoy it.

Inside the main hotel was a fancier lounge.  It had a touch of olde worlde charm.  If I had had time to relax with a book in a comfy chair, this is where I might have plonked myself.  The Kildonan also had evening meals in the dining room.  I can imagine this would be the place for a sherry before dinner at the bar.  As it was, we only came in here to wait for a taxi to my sister-in-law's house.

The dining room was another charming room.  It was here the we had breakfast both mornings.  The first morning it was a relaxed affair.  Sylvia was very excited at the buffet.  She ordered hot chocolate, a drink she was very fond of in Scotland.  When we asked after it a while after ordered, the waitress told us that it was in the jug that we thought had extra hot water for E's tea.

I started with some yoghurt and sultana bran.  Alongside it was a glass of juice I poured thinking it was pear juice.  It was grapefruit and very sour.  I did feel it was remiss of them to provide tea, coffee and juice but no water.

Then I had baked beans, grilled tomato and mushrooms and a tattie scone.  It was very nice.  E was very pleased to have a fry up.

Lastly I had some jam on a piece of toast.  Sylvia just adored these cute little jars of jam.  As always we were last out. 

Our second morning was a less cosy affair.  We rose at 3.30am in order to catch an early taxi to the airport and fly home.  So we had arranged to have a cold breakfast.  We crept in to the deserted breakfast room in the small hours to have juice and cereal to see us on our way.

I would like to return to Kildonan Lodge Hotel.  It was very comfortable and cosy in a splendidly British way, and lovely to be waited upon after spending a month of finding our own way in self catering apartments.

Kildonan Lodge Hotel
27 Craigmillar Park
Edinburgh EH16 5PE
Tel: 0131 667 2793

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Paris: Rue des Rosiers apartment and airport transfers

Before I tell you about our gorgeous Paris apartments I must tell about the challenges we faced in getting there.  While in Scotland I was not impressed with our second holiday apartment and kept dreaming of the lovely apartment I had booked in Paris.  Then five days before we flew to Paris we were told there was a leak and were offered an apartment that cost more but was further out and had less character.  The next four days were the Easter long weekend.  I was stressed and then I decided to take action.  I found a similar (vacant) apartment to ours that was just slightly more central, slightly bigger and slightly more expensive.  I suggested this apartment to the booking agent (from The French Experience in Melbourne).  He was very helpful over a holiday weekend.  We ended up agreeing that we would book it and pay some of the difference in price.

Getting there was another story.  We flew with a budget airline whose staff walked up and down the boarding queue looking for anyone with hand luggage that was too big.  (Which was better than the airline making the announcements asking passengers to volunteer to check in hand luggage or hand luggage would be randomly checked in.)

To check into our accommodation we had to ring a contact who would tell us the exact address where we would meet him.  We arrived in Paris with no mobile phone (long boring story) so I asked a woman at Orly airport information desk if she could tell us where the public phones were.  She was very kind and rang the accommodation contact for me.  We then went to the taxi rank where we were given priority for a taxi because we had a child with us!  The taxi drove us along crowded freeways and through the beautiful inner suburbs of Paris where we sighed with joy at the elegant architecture.

Finally we arrived in our street outside 40 Rue des Rosiers in the Marais.  The street was so narrow that there was no room for a car to park without blocking all other traffic.  It was a quaint cobbled street in an area of medieval Paris that had become the Jewish quarter, descended into slums, was earmarked for demolition and saved to become one of the hipster areas of Paris.  For tourists such as us, it was close to cafes, the Metro, the Seine, Notre Dame, the Pompidou Centre and museums.

Fortunately we had left a large case at my sister in law's in Edinburgh so we only had a couple of large cases to carry up the one flight of stairs.

Inside we were melting with happiness at how charmingly lovely the apartment was.  In fact it had even more than I had expected.  There was a loft above the bedroom where Sylvia could sleep and a microwave even though they weren't mentioned in the apartment information.  The apartment dates back to the 17th Century and the exposed beams and stone give it a welcoming historic ambience.

It is a small matter but when I looked at the crockery I was so pleased to see it had some character.  Our previous kitchen in Edinburgh had been so ill equipped - no chopping board, cheap crockery and lots of ugly beer glasses. 

The Paris kitchen had everything we needed.  Actually I didn't cook as much in Paris as in Edinburgh.  A microwave, a kettle and a washing machine was quite adequate.  The kettle was a whistling kettle rather than electric.  Which was fine except that when a young child is not sleeping well, the piercing whistle is that last thing we needed.

Yes the apartment had a few quirks.  As well as a whistling kettle, there was no overhead lights in any of the rooms and the bathroom was unusual.  The bath had the tap at the opposite end of from the opening.  Which meant that I had to get in the bath to turn it on or adjust it.  Thankfully Sylvia is old enough to turn it off.  The bath (with shower) was really high and even with the hand rail it was a bit worrying climbing in and out.

And while I admired the ingenuity of storing the hot water heater up high, I would cross my fingers that it was quite stable when in the bathroom.

The bedroom off the living room had no door and was quite cosy, though the futon bed was low to the ground.  It was rather dark even with the lamps.  The only tv in the apartment was in the bedroom but after Sylvia watching French cartoons briefly early on, we didn't touch it.  I was happy to live without it.  The other quirk was that the roof was rather low due to the loft being built overhead.

The loft was pretty simple with a bed on the floor and not enough room to stand.  It looked over the living area through the windows and was reached by a creaky ladder.  Sylvia's sleeping was pretty unsettled by moving to different places and being up a ladder was not ideal.  I did not like going up and down the ladder to check on her.  But in theory it was really cute.

The fireplace was also nice to look at but not so practical.  Which was fine.  The heaters in the apartment kept it nicely warm.  I really loved the living area.  It was cosy and comfortable.

The windows in the living room overlooked the narrow Rue des Rosiers.  Each morning it was fairly quiet but at night the Marais really came to life and our street was no exception.  Despite this, we didn't find it that noisy.  But it was great fun to look down and watch the people going by.

And the large windows let in lots of light.  The apartment looks a bit gloomy in my photos as we were out most of the day and I took most at night.  However it had plenty of light.  You can also see in this photo that we had a table and chairs in the corner where we ate meals.

When we were introduced to the apartment we were given the first of quite a few warnings about pickpockets in Paris.  Fortunately we did not encounter any but we did see quite a few armed soldiers on and near our street.  Yet it was an enchanting place to stay.  It was the sort of place that as a tourist, I might look up at the windows and wish I lived them.  It was most pleasing to be the person going through the little door and staying in that apartment. 

However our leaving was not without drama.  As we did not have a phone I decided to go to the taxi rank at St Paul Metro station that was five minutes walk away.  The taxi driver asked me to direct him to Rue des Rosiers.  I felt like laughing at the idea of me being able to navigate all the one way streets.  Any wise driver consults a map in this circumstance.  Not this driver.  He got lost in one way streets and finally I got the map from him and tried to direct him to our street, but not without him needing to drive backwards up a one way street.  I was very relieved when we got to number 40 where E was playing ukulele as he waited with Sylvia and our suitcases.  I was sad to leave but hope maybe to return to Paris some day.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Edinburgh miscellany - meals and shops

As I am nearing the last of my posts about our trip to Edinburgh and Paris, I bring you a post about some of the meals we had at home and an esoteric selection of food shopping.

Above is perhaps my favourite food shop in Edinburgh: Cranachan and Crowdie.  It really stood out among all the tartan tat food shops on Royal Mile that sold the same old fudge, rock and teas.  Cranachan and Crowdie had a fantastic selection of really good Scottish food from small producers.  Sylvia loved the "Puffin Poo" from the Shetland Fudge Company.  I was tempted by the Haggis oatcakes and some of the liqueurs.  I ended up buying excellent Shortbread House shortbread, a tartan baking dish, Orkney smoked cheese and Stag seaweed crackers.  I could have bought so much more if I had the money and space in my suitacase.

Those who have followed my blog for some time will know I love nut roasts.  I didn't have the wherewithal to make one from scratch on our trip but I was pretty excited to find a packet one in Holland and Barratt. It was a simple matter of tipping the dried mixture into a cardboard "loaf tin", adding water and baking.  How I wish I could buy these locally.

Though we had fantastic bread in Paris, the bread in Edinburgh was hit and miss.  It was made even more challenging in our second holiday apartment where we didn't have decent bread knives (and only had a chopping board because e found one when clearing out his dad's house).  I fell in love with the bread from the Wee Boulangerie (67 Clerk Street).  Not cheap but it was worth paying extra for the excellent dense crusty bread.

Here is a meal we had one night with bread from the Wee Boulangerie, some seaweed crackers, Pringles crisps, smoked cheese and a container of green vegies with mint butter from Sainsburys.  It probably was on one of those evenings with little energy but a need for some greens.

I bought some vegan bacon at the Sgaia's vegan stall at Stockbridge market.  It was just the think for a fry up at our apartment.  Potato scones, beans with vegie sausages and vegan bacon.  I probably cooked the vegan bacon a bit much but loved it.  I've sampled a few vegan bacons since going vegetarian but loved the streaks in the bacon.

In Australia, Bakers Delight Bakeries are everywhere.  In the UK there seems to be a Greggs Bakery everywhere you look.  I am quite partial to the cheese and onion pasties.  I tried to introduce Sylvia to them.  She just liked eating the pastry from around the edges.  Which was ok once I found out how much extra they charged to eat instore!

After one long day we stopped at Yum Yums fish and chip shop at the top of Fleshmarket Close in Cockburn Street.  I was too tired to face getting dinner so a box of chips was a quick option.  And as if this wasn't unhealthy enough we finished by sharing a deep fried Mars Bar.  They are ugly and such a weird idea.  Yet they are really good in a disturbing sort of way that means one is enough to last a long long time.

And just in case you are crazy enough to want to make your own deep fried Mars Bar at home, you can buy the tea towel in Victoria Street.  We were more amused by the "You'll have had your tea" tea towel.  It is a phrase that E and his dad both loved to use in jest but apparently was used more seriously to greet guests by other Edinburghers in the past.  This is one of the tea towels I wish I had bought.

I was really impressed with Dee's vegan sausages that I bought from Holland and Barratt.  I bought the traditional sausages spiced with coriander, pepper, ginger and Irish dulse seaweed.  I think it is the first time I have had vegetarian sausages with good skins on them that remind me of meat sausages.  Sadly I don't think they are available in Australia.  They were excellent with chutney, mash and green vegies

Another very simple meal was this excellent sandwich on Wee Boulangerie bread and filled with swiss cheese, the Sgaia bacon, kale and chutney.

E and Sylvia are very keen on fudge.  I am less enthusiastic about it.  However I did like the chocolate salted fudge from the Fudge Kitchen.  The guy behind the counter was entertaining as he chatted to us and gave us fudge to taste.  I also watched them make it for a short time and was told that they mix it to stop the sugar crystalising and keep the consistency creamy.  Indeed it was far superior to a lot of fudge I have tasted.

In the past we have visited the Marks and Spencer cafe in Princes Street a few times.  I am very partial to the cheese scones but there is quite a range of sandwiches, cakes, soup, salads etc.  It is quite cosy with little booths in an area walled off from the food hall.  On this visit all I could see was a brightly lit space with a few plastic chairs and very little on offer. 

As I had decided to have lunch at Marks and Sparks, I bought this Nutty Super Wholefood Salad with cannelini bean and sesame tahini dip.  It was packed with quinoa, edamame, green beans, grated carrots, black eyed beans and nuts.  Unfortunately Sylvia could not taste any as it had peanuts.  She had a less satisfying meal of chips and juice and I can't remember the rest.  Then on my last day in Edinburgh I discovered that I had overlooked the cafe earlier.  So I dropped in for a cheese scone and a cup of regret!

On a chilly afternoon E spied an interesting coffee shop called Procaffeination in St Mary's Street just South of the Royal Mile.  We managed to go back one morning a few days later.  The waitress was not very interested in helping us, it was cold and deserted with no music playing.  The place had a nice design with little trains about but it was souless.  I enjoyed my fizzed cloudy apple juice and currant bun but Sylvia's hot chocolate was too big for her. 

As we were ready to leave, a guy arrived who put on music, gave us a friendly greeting when he passed us and other people started to arrive.  The ambience changed and we were sorry to have been there in the graveyard shift.

Just down from Procaffeination was The Shortbread Shop.  On the window it says "where butter makes everything better".  This was a shop with excellent shortbread, cosy ambience and a sense of humour.

So I leave you with a photo of an amusing flowchart in the Shortbread Shop.  I particularly love the result if you choose a bag of shortbread: "pretend you'll take it home to share and then eat it walking down the street".  We've all been there!  We did not buy shortbread there.  We did have a wee taste and it was indeed excellent shortbread.  I suspect it was not long after we had visited the Fudge Kitchen.  There are only so many sweet treats one can buy.  Even on holiday!